Denzel Washington has played memorable cops over the years, but that doesn’t bother him. For him, what matters is the script.
So when John Lee Hancock introduced him The Little Things (“Little Details”), a crime drama and obsession set in Los Angeles in 1990, was curious. The role they offered him was that of Joe Deacon, who left the city for the country after a painful case years ago but who they turn to to help find a murderer.
“There’s an old saying that goes, ‘If it’s not on paper, it’s not on stage,'” Washington said. “And this was on paper first.”
So Hancock told him who he wanted for the other main characters: Rami Malek as his odd partner, Sergeant Jim Baxter, and Jared Leto as the suspect Albert Sparma, a sullen who may be innocent.
“I said, ‘OK, let me reread it,'” Washington said with a laugh. “It was not difficult at all. It was like saying, ‘OK, when do we start?’
The Little Things, which opens in theaters and on HBO Max on January 29, is one of Malek’s first major roles since his award-winning work on Bohemian Rhapsody (“Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Freddie Mercury”), which led him to meet Washington.
“We met at the Golden Globes the year of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ He was there with John David (Washington) for BlacKkKlansman, and I locked eyes with Denzel for a moment. He saw me … I saw him start to stand up and I thought, ‘You better stand up and get closer to him faster than he’s moving towards you,’ ”Malek said. “I found out shortly after that he and John Lee had me in mind for the role.”
The equation was simple: when Denzel Washington wants you for a movie, you accept. Hancock liked that Washington and Malek were “strange companions.”
“I don’t think they’re guys who would have fun together or go to a bar to watch sports,” Hancock said. “I thought that would really benefit the movie.”
The rare trio also have very different styles. Washington was in constant conversation with Hancock from the moment he joined the project, dissecting the character, the decisions and the script. Leto, on the other hand, stayed away from his companions until the time of filming. It is not that he did not take it seriously, but that he is an actor of method and wanted to know them already with their costumes, immersed in their characters.
“You don’t want to show up unprepared on a set like this,” said Leto, who considers Washington one of his personal heroes.
Hancock loved the energy this brought to their first on-camera encounter.
“It was as if they were smelling each other, as if they were feeling. It was just electric because they hadn’t been in the same room together and they hadn’t become buddies, ”Hancock said. “It was Albert Sparma and Joe Deacon.”
Washington agreed and said he liked that this kept it fresh.
“At the end of the day it is still acting,” he added.
Although Malek is nearly 40 and Leto is nearly 50, Washington, 66, refers to them as young actors and “the next generation.” He was just as excited to see them work as they were to work with him. For a scene in which Malek’s character interrogates Leto’s, Washington decided to sit behind glass and watch them.
“I would have loved to have popcorn!” Said Washington. “It was like watching a boxing match.”
His dedication, which included gaining and losing 18 kilograms (40 pounds), amazed Malek.
“I appreciated that he was always there,” Malek said. “We got really excited after that particular scene. At that time we were part of a trio of something special ”.
Hancock said he did not try to manage the three actors but rather not to get in their way. All of them, he said, gave their best, even though their methods of achieving it were different.
Washington, who has boxed for years, follows the logic that “you stay prepared so you don’t have to prepare.” He was confident that he could trust his castmates to do the same for what would be a difficult and fast filming.
“These two actors are Academy Award winners just like me. The three of us are world champions, so to speak. So you know you’re stepping into the ring with two world champions, “Washington said. “That wakes you up.”
The Little Things it’s the end of a long chapter for Hancock, who wrote it in 1993. The script was popular but for various reasons it never got off the ground. Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty and Danny DeVito are some of the greats who considered directing it at different times.
Hancock’s producer picked it up a few years ago. By then, Hancock himself was an established director with credits like The Blind Side (“A possible dream”), The Rookie (“The rookie”) and Saving Mr. Banks (“Walt’s Dream”) and it seemed like the right time to give the film another shot. What was once an innovative look at police surveillance in transition was now a period film.
“It would have saved us a lot of money to make it contemporary,” Hancock said with a laugh. “But I liked the idea that this was 1990 pre-DNA. The investigations were more difficult, everything was more difficult. You had to carry packs of coins to use public telephones ”.
In the end, it’s an original version of a well-known formula that keeps you guessing who’s to blame until the end.
“I wanted it to feel like it’s going to be a genre movie until you realize it’s not about that at all,” Hancock said. “Instead of building toward resolution, it kind of unravels.”
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Review of the film ‘The Little Things’, with Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto